On Mike Lee and Democracy
Utah Senator Mike Lee tweeted late Thursday night, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” Typo aside, Lee’s tweet created something of a firestorm on Twitter. There were calls of fascism and of the mask slipping proving Republicans really do hate democracy.
Of course, Lee is right, however. The Declaration of Independence states that, “That to secure these rights [of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Put into 21st century English, while legitimate government needs to be sanctioned by the people, it exists to protect their rights. We, in America, reject the idea of a Rousseauian general will because we know that just because 50%+1 think something is a good idea, doesn’t make it so.
The Constitution is also full of anti-democratic principles. The reason for a bicameral legislature with a legitimate second house (as opposed to a House of Lords) is that a bill needs to clear an additional, less democratic and theoretically more dispassionate, obstacle to become a law.
The president, despite what the executive branch has morphed into over the last century, has limited power in domestic affairs and can not do much with out the legislature and even the legislature is, at least theoretically, constrained by Article I Section 8 and the 10th Amendment.
If, the federal government is limited, so are the states as the Supreme Court has over time applied the Bill of Rights to the states via the 14th Amendment.
This is not controversial and even those condemning Lee as some sort of proto-fascist know it. Consider former FBI counterterrorism assistant director Frank Figliuzzi who replied to Lee’s tweet, “‘Democracy isn’t the objective’. Our suspicions are confirmed.”
It was exactly one week ago that Figliuzzi proposed an anti-democratic committee to vet presidential candidates because the country elected the wrong one in 2016:
We’ve got to have a national discussion about how we vet a presidential candidate. We screwed this up. Whether it’s the media not digging deeply enough, whether it’s a time to have a discussion about a bipartisan committee that demands tax returns, make that a requirement, or exposes financial pictures for candidates. But we got this wrong, and this can’t happen again.
The left is also currently in the process of running around the country with its hair on fire warning that the Supreme Court might overturn Roe v. Wade, but if Roe were to fall it would simply return abortion to the states where the people’s elected state representatives and state senators would control abortion laws. Roe is anti-democratic and the left views it as a sacred cow never to be questioned, let alone overturned.
Same-sex marriage, another socially liberal priority, was enacted nationally not through democratic processes, but through Supreme Court dictate.
Slavery was ended, partly through democracy, but mostly through war where one half of the country imposed its will on the other through force of arms.
Brown v. Board of Education brought an un-democratic end to segregation.
So, why, you might ask do we have a democracy? Why not just have some benevolent monarch? Because rotation through government is necessary to prevent entrenchment of imperfect people in positions of high power.
We also limit what the majority can do, because, no matter how unfashionable it is to say out loud, we all know that the customer (i.e. the voter) is not always right. Contrary to Rousseau’s idea of democracy where democracy is good because the people are all knowing and all wise is C.S. Lewis:
I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. Whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure.
The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.
Mike Lee is correct. Government exists to protect rights, not to be democratic for its own sake. Opposition parties and elections are necessary to ensure the governing party does not trample on those rights and warn the people when they do.